by Sile Mulcahy
Published by Kerryman, Tralee, ISBN 0946 277 25 7
The Port Yarrock was wrecked at Kilcummin strand, Brandon on 29-1-1894 with the loss of all aboard. The story was all but forgotten locally until a local group assembled to commemorate the centenary in 1994. Sile Mulcahy was charged with the task of researching the story and was able through diligent enquiry and some strokes of luck to uncover a tale of human suffering, hardship on long distance sailing ships and willful embezzlement of the ship’s stores. The sum total of all this was that the ship reached Brandon with most of the crew ill from scurvy. The captain hesitated on grounds of economy to hire a tug and the ship was lost. Final letters from the crew to their families were posted from Tralee when the captain went ashore to communicate with his owners. One of the crew was an apprentice, Philip Baines. He wrote profusely to his family. The Baines family held their son’s letters and they were made available to Sile Mulcahy who reproduced them in her book. This material provides the novelty and human interest background to a remarkable story. The sailing ship conditions at the turn of the century would rapidly remove any notions of the romance of the sea. The ill treatment and parsimony of the shipowners was extraordinary. The limejuice to prevent scurvy had been sold. The Apprentices whose families had paid for their training were used as stevedores at Santa Rosalia. The cook sold the rations and then shot himself when the extent of his wrongdoing became obvious. Finally, the cost of a tug at Tralee was judged too much, and another company tug was awaited. Even then, there is no account of extra supplies being brought aboard to feed the starving crew. All aboard died when the ship ran ashore at Brandon after dragging her anchors on 29-1-1894. Long legal battles against the owners ensued but there was little compensation for the badly used apprentices who formed a substantial portion of the crew. There are several traces of the wreck remaining around Brandon and a fine memorial at Stradbally churchyard. A commemorative stone was placed beside the ship’s anchor at Brandon on the 100th anniversary of the wreck. This is an excellent, detailed, account of a single shipping tragedy on the Irish coast. It illustrates the wealth of information available on the smallest aspect of our local history. The account is both stimulating and well written.
reviewed by Eddie Bourke